State Senate passes bill that would give North Bay fire victims relief
The state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation giving fire victims who lost their homes in October more flexibility under their insurance policies to rebuild, though a related measure remains stymied by industry opposition in the chamber.
Senators voted 24-11 in favor of the measure, SB 894, by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. Dodd pushed his bill to help aid fire victims who have found themselves severely underinsured as they attempt to rebuild. The Dodd bill now heads to the state Assembly.
Dodd was forced to limit his bill to pick up enough votes for passage. As originally proposed, the legislation would apply retroactively to July 1, 2017 to benefit the almost 6,200 North Bay homes lost in last year’s wildfires.
The only retroactive portion in the measure that passed the Senate would allow an increase from one year to two on the length of time insurance companies would be required to provide victims with policy renewals in the aftermath of such disasters.
For future disasters, it would allow policyholders to combine their homeowner policies for different coverage areas — such as personal property and outside dwellings — to pay for rebuilding their primary dwelling.
In another concession to industry opposition, Dodd narrowed his measure so that the insurance payments would apply to actual losses accrued, not the maximum amount listed under each line item of a policy. Additionally, three conditions must be met: The actual cause of loss must be declared a disaster by the governor, there must a total loss of a primary dwelling and policyholders must show they have insufficient coverage to rebuild.
“Tragic and destructive wildfires over the past few years have revealed shortcomings in the law that have allowed insurance companies to take advantage of people,” Dodd said. “This bill will put an end to the abuses, providing needed relief for victims struggling desperately to put their lives back together.”
The legislation also expands the insurance coverage for living expenses from two years to three. Companies also must report to the Insurance Commissioner if they decline to renew a policy.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, is attempting to move his bill (SB 897) that would require insurance carriers to pay out at least 80 percent of the maximum limit under a homeowner’s personal property coverage without requiring policyholders to itemize losses. The provision would be granted for claims in a declared disaster area.
“We’re still working on it,” said Kerrie Lindecker, McGuire’s spokeswoman.
Under pressure from state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, most carriers have paid out from 50 percent to 100 percent of personal property limits without itemization in the aftermath of the October fires. Many policyholders have complained that compiling a list of individual items lost is too burdensome and traumatic as they try to rebuild.
The McGuire bill must pass the chamber by Friday or it will be dead for the legislative session.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to reflect that retroactivity has been limited in the bill.
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.